VA Misses Mark In Brain Injury Research

Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of helping a number of clients who have suffered from brain injuries.  And as I’ve written before, I hoped that one small benefit of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was that the Veterans Administration and others would use the opportunity to conduct meaningful research on brain injuries that could help both our military and the rest of society.

Unfortunately, I might have had my hopes too high.  Over the weekend, the Austin American Statesman ran a wonderful project by Jeremy Schwartz that outlined many of the problems facing researchers who tried to launch an expensive brain injury research program in Waco.

If you’re interested at all in brain injuries and brain injury research, I urge you to spend some time with the resources at the project.

Even if you’re not particularly interested in brain injuries, I think the project is still a good example of what journalism could be.  In addition to his written articles, which also appeared in the paper, the project includes video stories and links to the actual documents used to substantiate the article.  It is extremely well done.

Car Wrecks: Avoiding Road Rage

My favorite example of Dallas traffic happened several years ago during Texas/OU weekend.  We were in college, driving on I35 (no doubt with the radio blaring), and I saw a driver four lanes over start screaming because he thought someone cut him off.  But he was screaming so loud that we could hear him, through four lanes of traffic, and over our radio.

Thankfully, few of us are that bad, but I’m sure we all get annoyed a bit when driving.  And that’s dangerous for us and all those around us.

Recently, I received an email from AAA that had some tips for avoiding road rage, and I thought I’d share them here.  They are as follows:

  • Cutting people off. When you merge into traffic, use your turn signal and make sure you have plenty of room to enter traffic without cutting someone off. If you accidentally do cut someone off, try to apologize with an appropriate gesture, such as a hand wave. If someone cuts you off, take the high road: Slow down and give them plenty of room.
  • Driving slowly in the left lane. Even if you’re driving the speed limit, if you’re in the left lane and someone wants to pass, be courteous; move over and let them pass so you don’t anger drivers behind you. The left lane is actually intended as a passing-only lane. Otherwise, you’re expected to move to the right. You might be familiar with the signs that read: keep right except to pass. Besides, if the car behind you is speeding, it just might receive some unwanted but justified attention from law enforcement. Also, if you notice a long string of cars behind you on a two-lane mountain road, find an appropriate turnout and let them pass.
  • Tailgating. Drivers can really get angry when another car follows them too closely, so allow adequate room between you and the car in front of you. Follow the two-second rule: when the vehicle in front of you passes a landmark, it should take you at least two seconds to reach the same point. If you’re being tailgated, put on your turn signal and pull over to allow the vehicle to pass.
  • Making obscene or provocative gestures. Never flip off another driver. Almost nothing makes other drivers angrier than an obscene gesture. Even shaking your head may anger some drivers. So be cautious and courteous—signal every time you merge or change lanes, as well as when you turn.

Most of this is common sense, but it’s always good to get a little reminder to help us keep our cool while driving.

 

Posted on: September 5, 2014 | Tagged

Personal Injury Claims: What If My Medical Bills Exceed The Policy Limit

I received this question from a potential client the other day.

Whether you have a car wreck, on-the-job injury, slip and fall, or any other personal injury claim, your claim will usually be paid by an insurance company.  Unless you have a claim against a large commercial business (think Walmart), then you’re only going to be able to recover from the defendant’s insurance policy.Unfortunately, insurance policies don’t pay unlimited amounts.  Policies come with a “policy limits”, the maximum amount that the insurance company will be liable for in any claim.   Except in rare circumstances, that limit is the most the insurance company will ever be required to pay, no matter how bad you’re hurt.  (For a more detailed article on policy limits, click here.)

In some circumstances, a client’s medical expenses can exceed the policy limits.  What do you do then?

Generally, there are two potential courses of action.  First, if you health insurance, then health insurance will pay most of your medical expenses.  Unfortunately, you typically have to reimburse your health insurance company for the amounts that it has paid.  When these medical expenses exceed the policy limits, we will typically negotiate the amount you have to pay back to the insurance company so that we can minimize that amount and put as much money as possible back in your pocket.

Alternatively, if you don’t have health insurance, then those bills are likely still outstanding.  In that case, we’ll negotiate directly with the medical providers.  We can usually work something out.  In these cases, the medical providers usually know, especially when the bills are high, that people don’t have the financial resources to personally pay large healthcare bills.  Thus, they know that the best way to get it is out of a settlement.  So often, we’ll be able to negotiate a resolution where the medical providers are accepting pennies on the dollar.  The medical providers know that something is better than nothing, even if that something isn’t very big.

There are, of course, other ways of solving this problem, but these answers settle most of the problems.

Posted on: September 2, 2014 | Tagged

Amusement Park Safety

roller-coasterEarlier this week, several people were injured in a roller coaster accident at Six Flags in Valencia, California.  Apparently, a tree fell on the track, injuring two people and causing a number of others to be stranded for hours.

That’s tragic.  Amusement park injuries occur more than we think, and they are often severe.

But what caught my eye was the source of the story.  The story I saw was on Yahoo, but ran in the Christian Science Monitor.  Why did it catch my eye?

A lot of people have never heard of the Christian Science Monitor, but it’s an internationally respected newspaper that has won several Pulitzer Prizes and dozens of other awards for outstanding journalism.  When I was in back in high school participating in speech and debate, we used to read many of the articles, and most of the headlines, to prepare ourselves for our various competitions.

The Yahoo story stuck with me because I’ll always remember a competition in the small town of Hondo, Texas, where I quoted an article from the Christian Science Monitor in one of my speeches.  I didn’t do as well as I normally did or expected to do, and I couldn’t figure out why until we received the judges’ sheets after the contest.  And my judge railed on me for citing a right wing propaganda machine during my speech.

I didn’t correct my judge to let him know about his errors.  But I’ve always remembered that story because it’s an important to so many lessons for me.  I’m just sorry a roller coaster accident had to be the reminder.

 

 

Posted on: July 9, 2014 | Tagged

Get Ready To File Your Chrysler Ignition Switch Claims

As you probably know, Chrysler admitted earlier this year that just over 2.5 million of its vehicles had defective ignition switches.  The switches were faulted in at least 165 deaths and countless more serious injuries.

In an effort to control litigation costs, Chrysler has set up a claim process that will serve as an alternative to litigation.  If injured as a result of a faulty ignition switch, you may submit a claim, and it will be reviewed by attorney Kenneth Feinberg, who will make awards that Chrysler has agreed to pay.  The hope is that the process will be expedited and reduce costs.  Under the proposal, your claim must be made between August 1 and December 31 of this year, and Mr. Feinberg has a goal of resolving each claim within 90 to 180 days of filing.

From a claimant’s perspective, the biggest potential advantage appears to be the speed of the filing and resolution.  A typical products liability lawsuit would usually take much longer than the time hoped for in this process.  Additionally, Mr. Feinberg has publicly stated that he doesn’t want to litigate issues relating to whether the claimant’s conduct contributed to the wreck — for example, was the claimant drunk, speeding, etc.  Those types of issues would obviously be huge concerns in a trial.

On the downside, Mr. Feinberg has a lot of experience in evaluating claims and making awards in situations such as this (he handled the Sept. 11 Victim’s Compensation Fund and he’s currently doing similar work in the BP oil spill arena), and he has received a fair amount of criticism about his awards in the BP case.

If you don’t want to enter the process, then you can still file a lawsuit.  However, which path to take is a decision that must be made on a case-by-case basis.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a wreck caused by a faulty ignition switch, please call us and we’ll try to help you.

Posted on: July 1, 2014 | Tagged

Sorry For The Lack Of Articles, But…..

EBCampershirtmockI had the pleasure of spending the last week at Camp Emerald Bay on Catalina Island with about 35 members of my son’s scout troop.  It has taken time away from the office and my family, and it’s certainly made things more hectic, but it was worth it.

Over the course of the week, our kids earned over 100 merit badges in activities ranging from oceanography, environmental sciences, and mammal studies, to more traditional badges, such as archery, lifesaving, and wilderness survival.

Our boys could earn these merit  badges here at home, but the long trip also offered our boys a more hands-on experience.  For example, most of the kids explored the marine life in the area through snorkeling or even scuba diving.  The boys also had the opportunity to go salt water fishing from a fishing boat, to watch sea lions frolic, and watch dolphins follow our ferry to and from the island.

The camp’s marine science center was also a top attraction.  There, our boys were able to touch and feed leopard sharks, horn sharks, bat rays and more.  And many of the boys were enamored with the mantis shrimp.  These shrimp can grow up to a foot in length, and they are often difficult to keep in aquariums because they are strong enough to break the glass.  Indeed, the boys were fascinated by the fact that if humans could accelerate their arms at one-tenth the speed at which a mantis shrimp attacks its prey, we’d be able to launch a baseball into orbit.

The Waterfront At Camp Emerald Bay

The Waterfront At Camp Emerald Bay

One of the favorite parts of the week was “war canoes”, where we made an hour-plus canoe trip to a secluded beach on the island.  Once there, the kids could go hiking, snorkeling or play on the beach.  The day was capped off with dutch oven dinners, and then we all spent the night on the beach.  Around 4:45 the next morning, we had our wake-up call, we loaded up, and we canoed back to the main camp.

Of course, no boy scout camp would be complete without the opportunity to serve others, and one of our opportunities was a bit unexpected.  As we returned to camp with our fishing charter, we encountered a small boat with three passengers waving feverishly.  As our captain approached the boat, the boaters let us know that they had run out of gas and were stranded.  We radioed to Harbor Patrol, and soon our stranded friends were being towed back in to safety.  The lesson was not lost on our boys as one unnamed scout (okay, it was my son), took the opportunity to suggest to the boaters that they should “Be Prepared” for those types of situations.

The Stranded Boaters Awaiting Help

The Stranded Boaters Awaiting Help

Needless to say, we were are all tired, but it was a great experience for all of the kids.

Posted on: June 23, 2014 | Tagged

The Vulnerably Housed and Homeless Suffer Increased Risk of TBI

Typically, traumatic brain injury (TBI) coverage focuses on those involved in contact sports and on military veterans. However, TBI also seriously affects vulnerably housed individuals and the homeless.

The Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation recently featured a study arguing that the homeless who suffer TBI have a strong, negative impact on public expenses. Homeless and unsafely housed individuals who have suffered damaging blows to the head are more likely to frequent ER departments for health care, to fall victim to assaults, to have done jail time and to have been arrested.

The Canadian article argued that traumatic brain injuries, such as concussions, are approximately seven times more common among the homeless. TBIs may manifest themselves in mental health issues, in alcohol or drug abuse and in physical symptoms, including seizures.

The study stretched over four years, and 61 percent of its participants reported having sustained a TBI in survey. The figures were roughly consistent across Canada. Homeless individuals with a history of TBI were 1.5 times more likely to attend an ER due to the long-term side effects of their brain injury.

These individuals were also almost twice as likely to have spent time in jail or to have been arrested by police within the previous year — usually as a result of personality disturbances or impaired mental abilities as a result of a TBI. The homeless with brain injuries were almost three times more likely to be assaulted than other, similarly situated individuals.

Increased screening and condition-management assistance could help control the higher level of health care required for homeless TBI victims. Unfortunately, prospects for this kind of action remain weak in the face of more dominant health care priorities.

Posted on: May 30, 2014 | Tagged

Texas oil workers have a high accident and death rate

Although the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was horrific for platform workers, and those who lost loved ones, riggers on land are at an even greater risk, without much of a support system for them.

According to a recent drilling article in the Houston Chronicle, workers have no one to rely on for their safety or assistance in the event of an accident, not even the federal government. It’s a depressing commentary on the human condition when 60 oil rig workers die, one at a time, and it does not register as a warning flag. This observation came from no less that the former assistant regional administrator for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

It’s not news that onshore oil fields are virtually the most dangerous places to work. This fact was revealed in 2007, at the beginning of the fracking boom, by the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSHIB), who revealed that 40 percent of the 663 riggers killed while working on rigs, died in Texas. 2012 was a bad year, featuring a ten-year high, with 65 deaths, 79 workers who had a limb amputated, 92 who sustained burns, 675 with broken bones and 82 crush deaths. These are grim statistics. Unfortunately, with the increased activity, particularly in the Eagle Ford Shale patch, the problem will only get worse.

Furthermore, the CSHIB study showed the federal government has done nothing for 22-years with regard to putting safety procedures and standards in place for onshore gas and oil drilling. These findings did not let the OSHA off the hook for their lackluster rules and regulations pertaining to safety. They are only mandated to launch an investigation relating to accidents that kill a worker or that resulted in three or more employees being sent to hospital. There were 18,000 work-related injuries in the past 6-years, and only 150 were investigated.

Perhaps it goes without saying, but bears mentioning as a reminder of the lack of government involvement relating to safety in the oil industry in Texas, that when the OSHA conducted an investigation, safety infractions and violations were cited in 78 percent of them. It’s not too difficult to suspect that the accidents that were not investigated were also caused by safety violations.

Instead of getting better, it appears safety procedures and standards rank dead last with the government. Hundreds of Texas families would disagree with this approach. Hundreds more workplace accident lawyers also find fault with this hands off attitude.

Posted on: May 20, 2014 | Tagged

Wrongful Death Lawsuit Results in Large Settlement out of Court, Due to Employer Negligence

Although this workplace lawsuit happened in Philadelphia, it could just as easily happen in Austin, Texas, the state with the highest number of on-the-job injuries and deaths.

This was a wrongful-death lawsuit that arose after the death of a Philadelphia man while on a jobsite. The $17 million settlement involved the wife of the deceased worker, a father of five, killed in 2011 when a 300-pound iron hook fell on him, instantly crushing his body.

Adam Nowak had gone to work in the morning, figuring he would be home later. His family never saw him alive again. Nowak’s death was ostensibly caused by the negligent maintenance of an industrial crane that held the large hook that fell on him.

Evidence relating to the case demonstrated that the accident was not the result of a moment of inattention by the crane operator. Instead, safety records showed a history of the company not inspecting its cranes. This meant the accident was not an unforeseeable event, but instead, one that was predictable—even more so when it was also revealed the company had a similar accident in 2004 when they were told to upgrade safety limit switches. The company did not upgrade the switches.
This is consistent with many construction accident cases. Tragedies rarely happen because of one sudden event. They usually happen because the contractors involved ignore safety rules and regulations, including their own policies and procedures, and knowingly make workers take shortcuts. Construction accidents aren’t usually sudden events; they’re usually the result of long-term problems.

This case did not make it to court, as the company, Veolia Energy’s Schuylkill Steam Plant, opted to settle out of court, a step usually taken if the defendant feels their case is not strong enough to withstand the scrutiny of a jury at trial. The company and crane operator paid $15 million, and the firm contracted to repair and inspect the crane paid $1.5 million, while the general contractor for the jobsite paid $550,000.

But for the negligence of the worker’s employer, he would still be alive today.

If you have been injured on the job, make contact with a knowledgeable Austin workplace injury lawyer. Each state has its own set of rules relating to injuries on the job, and you need to know how your situation may be addressed in terms of legal compensation for any injuries sustained.

Austin Accidents on the Rise Due to Construction and Inattention to Speed Limits

Austin is a busy city, rapidly expanding to greet new people. As the population grows, the number of traffic accidents increases.

The increasing number of accidents in Austin is related to the number of construction sites now actively expanding various highways, such as the project to add an express lane on MoPac. Ever since construction began, car crashes started to happen with alarming regularity.

The Austin Police Department (APD) is warning people that travel in a construction zone is at 55 mph, and not the usually posted speed, 65 mph. Be aware of any construction zones before leaving for work and watch the traffic ahead on the road. If it is moving slowly, there is usually a good reason.

MoPac is generally the one highway where people tend to put on an extra burst of cruise speed, over and above the posted limit. This tendency has resulted in a number of relatively serious crashes. Any interstate traffic is slowed down by construction reasons: There is no shoulder in a construction zone, and the speed limit is substantially lower. No shoulder means drivers have no place to go when they find themselves needing to slam on the brakes at the last minute to attempt to avoid a collision.

The $200 million expansion project, while a welcome change for harried drivers, has resulted in more people not paying attention to posted warnings relating to the construction. Drivers who do not pay attention to what they are doing while driving, whether that relates to texting while driving, or driving while distracted in other ways, are negligent. It is their duty to drive with due care and attention to everything going on around them. The minute their attention lapses, the chances of a serious or fatal accident goes up exponentially.

Even though police are stationed on MoPac, speeding is still an issue. At some point, the department plans to stop giving out warnings and start handing out tickets.

If you have been involved in a traffic accident as the result of another driver’s negligence, you may be able to obtain compensation for your injuries and losses. To initiate a personal injury lawsuit, you need to consult with an experienced Austin injury lawyer.

Posted on: April 23, 2014 | Tagged

Perlmutter & Schuelke, LLP maintains offices in Austin, Texas. However, our attorneys and lawyers represent clients throughout the state of Texas, including Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Forth Worth, El Paso, New Braunfels, San Marcos, Kyle, Buda, Round Rock, Georgetown, Lockhart, Bastrop, Elgin, Manor, Brenham, Cedar Park, Burnet, Marble Falls, Temple and Killeen. By Brooks Schuelke

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